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CMU engineering technology students gear up for Baja racing season

Team Chippewa Performance to race off-road vehicle in Kansas and Illinois

Contact: CMU News

Central Michigan University’s Society of Automotive Engineers Baja team is gearing up for racing season. Team Chippewa Performance will compete against more than 100 schools at the 2014 Baja SAE Collegiate Design Series competitions from May 22 through 25 in Pittsburg, Kansas, and from June 4 through 7 in Peoria, Illinois.

Seniors Travis Bussell from Wellston; Michael Grundner from Almont; Derek Hoffman from Saginaw; Daniel Matash from Alpena; Walter Robertson from Lake City; Wes Shaw from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Justin Wade from White Lake; and juniors Derek Donovan from Farmington Hills; and Michael Gollin and Nicholas Nelson, both from Livonia, have spent the past few months building an off-road vehicle for entry in the 2014 SAE Baja Collegiate Design Series competitions.

“This is the ninth year that the team is competing,” Ben Ritter, engineering technology instructor and SAE Baja club adviser, said. “The whole experience is a great opportunity for the students to exercise their leadership skills and put theory learned from class into practice, which is why these competitions are so highly respected in the industry.”

The students are tasked to design and build a small, one-person, off-road vehicle that will survive hours of driving during the severe punishment of races that cover rough terrain of rocks, ditches, mud, obstacles and sometimes water.

Mechanical engineering major Travis Bussell said the team is responsible for engineering, designing and building the car from the ground up.

“Every year we challenge ourselves with improving the design of the vehicle,” he said.

The competitions simulate real-world engineering design projects and related challenges and provide SAE student members the opportunity to experience the planning and manufacturing tasks found when introducing a new product to the consumer industrial market. Teams compete against one another to have their design accepted for manufacture by a fictitious firm.

A ten-horsepower Intek Model 20 engine donated by Briggs & Stratton Corp. powers all vehicles. Use of the same engine by all the teams creates a more challenging engineering design test.

Mechanical engineering senior Derek Hoffman said that the team looks at the previous year’s model to find all the flaws in it and tries to address them in the current year’s vehicle design.

“Being hands-on with this project has allowed us to get a first-hand, real-world experience with engineering,” Hoffman said. “It helps when you get into the actual job setting.”

Students must function as a team to design, build, test, promote and race the vehicle within the limits of the SAE competition rules. They also must generate financial support for their project.

“This is a competition where CMU can shine,” Ritter said. “The SAE Baja races are not just about engineering. They’re so much more than that. We welcome ideas from everybody.”

The team had their best year to date in 2012 when they placed 11th in Illinois, 14th in Kansas and third in the endurance race at both events.

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